Movie and TV Reviews

Reviews for New Movies Releasing May 7 – June 30, 2021

Above Suspicion (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
All Light, Everywhere (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)
Army of the Dead (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)
Blast Beat (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Changing the Game (Photo by Turner Jumonville/Hulu)
Chasing Wonders (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
The Columnist (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Cruella (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises Inc.)
The Djinn (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Dream Horse (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street and Topic Studios)
The Dry (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Finding You (Photo by Anthony Courtney/Roadside Attractions)
Flashback (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
Funhouse (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Here Today (Photo by Cara Howe/Stage 6 Films)
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)
In the Heights (Photo by Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Killing of Two Lovers (Photo courtesy of Neon)
Luca (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)
My Love (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)
New Order (Photo courtesy of Neon)
Paper Spiders (Photo courtesy of Entertainment Squad)
The Paper Tigers (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Profile (Photo courtesy of Bazelevs and Focus Features)
A Quiet Place Part II (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Riders of Justice (Photo by Rolf Konow/Magnet Releasing)
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/American Masters Films/PBS)
Spiral (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)
Spirit Untamed (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)
Those Who Wish Me Dead (Photo by Emerson Miller/New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Unthinkable (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Women (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Wrath of Man (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Complete List of Reviews

1BR — horror

2/1 — drama

2 Graves in the Desert — drama

2 Hearts — drama

2 Minutes of Fame — comedy

5 Years Apart — comedy

7 Days (2021) — comedy

8 Billion Angels — documentary

9to5: The Story of a Movement — documentary

12 Hour Shift — horror

17 Blocks — documentary

37 Seconds — drama

76 Days — documentary

The 420 Movie (2020) — comedy

2040 — documentary

7500 — drama

Aamis — drama

Abe — drama

About Endlessness — comedy/drama

Above Suspicion (2021) — drama

Adverse — drama

Advocate — documentary

The Affair (2021) (formerly titled The Glass Room) — drama

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — documentary

AKA Jane Roe — documentary

Algorithm: Bliss — sci-fi/horror

All Day and a Night — drama

All I Can Say — documentary

All In: The Fight for Democracy — documentary

All Light, Everywhere — documentary

All My Life — drama

All Roads to Pearla (formerly titled Sleeping in Plastic) — drama

Almost Love (also titled Sell By) — comedy/drama

Alone (2020) (starring Jules Willcox) — horror

Alone (2020) (starring Tyler Posey) — horror

Amazing Grace — documentary

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Another Round — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Apocalypse ’45 — documentary

The Apollo — documentary

The Arbors — sci-fi/horror

The Argument — comedy

Army of the Dead (2021) — horror

Artemis Fowl — fantasy

The Artist’s Wife — drama

Ask for Jane — drama

Ask No Questions — documentary

The Assistant — drama

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

Athlete A — documentary

Attack of the Murder Hornets — documentary

Baby God — documentary

Babysplitters — comedy

Babyteeth — drama

Bacurau — drama

Bad Boys for Life — action

Bad Education (2020) — drama

Bad Therapy (formerly titled Judy Small) — comedy/drama

Banana Split — comedy

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art — documentary

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — comedy

Beanpole — drama

Beast Beast — drama

Beastie Boys Story — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Beneath Us — horror

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

Bill & Ted Face the Music — sci-fi/comedy

The Binge — comedy

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — action

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Blast Beat — drama

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

Boogie — drama

The Booksellers — documentary

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — comedy

The Boys (first episode) — action

Brahms: The Boy II — horror

Breaking Fast — comedy

Breaking News in Yuba County — comedy

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

The Broken Hearts Gallery — comedy

Brothers by Blood (formerly titled The Sound of Philadelphia) — drama

Browse — drama

Buffaloed — comedy

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn — documentary

Burden (2020) — drama

Burning Cane — drama

Burn It All — drama

The Burnt Orange Heresy — drama

Cactus Jack — horror

Cagefighter — drama

Calendar Girl — documentary

The Call of the Wild (2020) — live-action/animation

A Call to Spy — drama

Call Your Mother — documentary

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Centigrade — drama

Changing the Game (2021) — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chasing Wonders — drama

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chop Chop — horror

Circus of Books — documentary

City of Lies — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

Cliff Walkers (formerly titled Impasse) — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun — documentary

Clover — drama

Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert — documentary

CODA — comedy/drama

Coded Bias (formerly titled Code for Bias) — documentary

Coffee & Kareem — comedy

Collective — documentary

Color Out of Space — sci-fi/horror

The Columnist — horror

Come as You Are (2020)  — comedy

Come Play — horror

Come to Daddy — horror

Come True — sci-fi/drama

Coming 2 America — comedy

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — horror

Console Wars — documentary

The Cordillera of Dreams — documentary

Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes — documentary

The Courier (2021) (formerly titled Ironbark) — drama

The Craft: Legacy — horror

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words — documentary

Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine — documentary

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — documentary

Crisis (2021) — drama

Critical Thinking — drama

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan — documentary

The Croods: A New Age — animation

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

Cruella — comedy/drama

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — horror

Cut Throat City — drama

Da 5 Bloods — drama

Daddy Issues (2020) — comedy

Dads — documentary

Dangerous Lies — drama

Dara of Jasenovac — drama

The Dark Divide — drama

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 — action/comedy

Dave Not Coming Back — documentary

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Days of the Whale — drama

A Deadly Legend — horror

Dear Santa — documentary

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train — animation

Denise Ho — Becoming the Song — documentary

Desolation Center — documentary

Desperados — comedy

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — horror

Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge — horror

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — documentary

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

Disclosure (2020) — documentary

Diving With Dolphins — documentary

The Djinn — horror

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dolittle — live-action/animation

Dolphin Island — drama

Dolphin Reef — documentary

Do Not Reply — horror

Don’t Look Back (2020) (formerly titled Good Samaritan) — horror

The Doorman (2020) — action

Dosed — documentary

Downhill — comedy

Dream Horse — drama

Dreamland (2020) (starring Margot Robbie) — drama

Driven to Abstraction — documentary

Driveways — drama

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America — documentary

The Dry — drama

Duty Free — documentary

Easy Does It — comedy

Elephant (2020) — documentary

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things — documentary

Embattled — drama

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

End of Sentence — drama

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

Enhanced (2021) (also titled Mutant Outcasts) — sci-fi/action

Enola Holmes —drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

The Etruscan Smile (also titled Rory’s Way) — drama

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — comedy

Evil Eye (2020) — horror

Exit Plan — drama

Extraction (2020) — action

Falling (2021) — drama

A Fall From Grace — drama

The Fallout — drama

Farewell Amor — drama

Fatal Affair (2020) — drama

Fatale — drama

The Father (2021) — drama

Fatima (2020) — drama

Fatman — comedy

Fear of Rain — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

First Cow — drama

Flashback (2021) (formerly titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell) — drama

Flipped (2020) — comedy

Force of Nature (2020) — action

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

The Forty-Year-Old Version — comedy

Four Good Days — drama

Four Kids and It — fantasy

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Freaky — horror

French Exit — comedy/drama

Friendsgiving — comedy

From the Vine — comedy/drama

Funhouse (2021) — horror

Game of Death (2020) — horror

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

The Gentlemen — action

Get Duked! (formerly titled Boyz in the Wood) — comedy

Get Gone — horror

The Ghost of Peter Sellers — documentary

A Girl From Mogadishu — drama

A Girl Missing — drama

A Glitch in the Matrix — documentary

Godzilla vs. Kong — action

The Go-Go’s — documentary

Golden Arm — comedy

Goldie — drama

Good Posture — comedy

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind — documentary

Greed — comedy/drama

Greenland — sci-fi/action

Gretel & Hansel — horror

Greyhound — drama

The Grudge (2020) — horror

Guest of Honour — drama

Gunda — documentary

Half Brothers — comedy

The Half of It — comedy

Halloween Party (2020) — horror

Happiest Season — comedy

Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics — documentary

Haymaker (2021) — drama

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Held — horror

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful — documentary

Here Are the Young Men — drama

Here Today — comedy/drama

Hero Dog: The Journey Home — drama

Herself — drama

The High Note — comedy/drama

His House — horror

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard — action

Holly Slept Over — comedy

Honest Thief — action

Hooking Up (2020) — comedy

Hope Gap — drama

Horse Girl — sci-fi/drama

The Host (2020) — horror

Hosts — horror

House of Hummingbird — drama

How to Build a Girl — comedy

How to Fix a Primary — documentary

Human Capital — drama

Human Nature (2020) — documentary

The Hunt — horror

Hunter Hunter — horror

Hysterical (2021) — documentary

I Am Human — documentary

I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story — drama

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation — action

If I Can’t Have You: The Jodi Arias Story — documentary

I Hate New York — documentary

I Hate the Man in My Basement — drama

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Impractical Jokers: The Movie — comedy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — drama

I’m Your Woman — drama

Incitement — drama

Infamous (2020) — drama

The Infiltrators — docudrama

The Informer (2020) — drama

Initials SG — drama

Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

In Our Mothers’ Gardens — documentary

Instaband — documentary

In the Earth — horror

In the Footsteps of Elephant — documentary

In the Heights — musical

The Invisible Man (2020) — horror

Iron Mask (formerly titled The Mystery of the Dragon Seal) — action

Irresistible (2020) — comedy

I Still Believe — drama

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

I Used to Go Here — comedy/drama

I’ve Got Issues — comedy

I Want My MTV — documentary

I Will Make You Mine — drama

Jakob’s Wife — horror

Jay Myself — documentary

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey — musical

John Henry — action

John Lewis: Good Trouble — documentary

JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened? — documentary

Judas and the Black Messiah (formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy) — drama

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Kat and the Band — comedy

Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! — documentary

Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections — documentary

Killer Among Us — horror

Killer Therapy — horror

The Killing of Two Lovers — drama

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Kill the Monsters — drama

The Kindness of Strangers — drama

Kindred — drama

The King of Staten Island — comedy/drama

La Llorona — horror

Land (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

The Lie (2020) — drama

Life in a Day 2020 — documentary

Like a Boss — comedy

Limbo (2021) — comedy/drama

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

Lingua Franca — drama

Little Fish (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Little Things (2021) — drama

The Lodge — horror

The Longest Wave — documentary

Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos — documentary

Long Weekend (2021) — sci-fi/drama

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Sarah — comedy/drama

Love Wedding Repeat — comedy

Low Tide — drama

Luca (2021) — animation

Lucky Grandma — action

Luz: The Flower of Evil — horror

LX 2048 — sci-fi

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Mighty Ira — documentary

Mighty Oak — drama

Military Wives — comedy/drama

The Mimic (2021) — comedy

Minari — drama

The Mindfulness Movement — documentary

Misbehaviour — drama

Miss Americana — documentary

Miss Juneteenth — drama

MLK/FBI — documentary

Moffie — drama

The Mole Agent — documentary

Monday (2021) — drama

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/action

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Mortal Kombat (2021) — fantasy/action

Most Dangerous Game — action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — action

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story — documentary

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story — documentary

My Boyfriend’s Meds — comedy

My Dad’s Christmas Date — comedy/drama

My Darling Vivian — documentary

My Love (2021) — comedy/drama

My Octopus Teacher — documentary

My Salinger Year (also titled My New York Year) — drama

My Spy — comedy

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Too Late (2020) — comedy

New Order (2021) — drama

News of the World — drama

A Nice Girl Like You — comedy

The Night (2021) — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — action

Nocturne (2020) — horror

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Nomadland — drama

No Man’s Land (2021) — drama

No Small Matter — documentary

Notturno — documentary

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band — documentary

One Hour Outcall — drama

One Night in Bangkok — drama

One Night in Miami… — drama

Only — sci-fi/drama

On the Record — documentary

On the Rocks (2020) — drama

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries — documentary

Onward — animation

Open — drama

Ordinary Love — drama

Origin of the Species — documentary

Otherhood — comedy

The Other Lamb — drama

Other Music — documentary

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles — documentary

Our Friend (formerly titled The Friend) — drama

Our Time Machine — documentary

Out of Blue — drama

The Outpost — drama

Out Stealing Horses — drama

The Painter and the Thief — documentary

Palm Springs — comedy

Paper Spiders — drama

The Paper Tigers — action

Parallel (2020) — sci-fi/drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

A Patient Man — drama

The Personal History of David Copperfield — comedy/drama

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway — live-action/animation

Phobias (2021) — horror

The Photograph — drama

The Place of No Words — drama

The Planters — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Possessor Uncut — sci-fi/horror

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

Profile (2021) — drama

Project Power — sci-fi/action

Promising Young Woman — comedy/drama

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

The Quiet One — documentary

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi/horror

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Raya and the Last Dragon — animation

Rebuilding Paradise — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

Red Penguins — documentary

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs — animation

A Regular Woman — drama

Relic — horror

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

Rewind — documentary

The Rhythm Section — action

The Ride (2020) — drama

Ride Like a Girl — drama

Riders of Justice — drama

The Right One — comedy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It — documentary

River City Drumbeat — documentary

Roald Dahl’s The Witches — horror/fantasy

Robert the Bruce — drama

The Rookies (2021) — action

Run (2020) — drama

Runner — documentary

Run With the Hunted — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

The Scheme (2020) — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

Scoob! — animation

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street — documentary

Screened Out — documentary

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (formerly titled Seahorse) — documentary

Seberg — drama

The Secret: Dare to Dream — drama

A Secret Love — documentary

The Secrets We Keep — drama

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

Selah and the Spades — drama

Separation (2021) — horror

Sergio (2020) — drama

Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days — documentary

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

She Dies Tomorrow — drama

She’s in Portland — drama

Shine Your Eyes — drama

Shirley — drama

Shithouse — comedy/drama

Shortcut — horror

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

Showbiz Kids — documentary

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — horror

Six Minutes to Midnight — drama

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story — documentary

Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons — documentary

Skin Walker — horror

Skyman — sci-fi/drama

Slay the Dragon — documentary

Smiley Face Killers — horror

Sno Babies — drama

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2020) — documentary

Some Kind of Heaven — documentary

Sometimes Always Never — comedy/drama

The Sonata — horror

Songbird — sci-fi/drama

Sonic the Hedgehog — live-action/animation

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

Sound of Metal — drama

Spaceship Earth — documentary

Spell (2020) — horror

Spelling the Dream (formerly titled Breaking the Bee) — documentary

Spiral (2021) — horror

Spirit Untamed — animation

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run — live-action/animation

Spontaneous — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Sputnik — sci-fi/horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stardust (2020) — drama

Starting at Zero — documentary

The State of Texas vs. Melissa — documentary

Stealing School — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Still Here (2020) — drama

The Story of Soaps — documentary

The Stranger (Quibi original) — drama

Stray (2021) — drama

Stray Dolls — drama

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street — documentary

Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash — drama

The Stylist — horror

Subjects of Desire — documentary

Sublime — documentary

Sugar Daddy (2021) — drama

Summerland — drama

The Sunlit Night — comedy/drama

Supernova (2021) — drama

The Surrogate — drama

Survive — drama

Swallow — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Tesla  — drama

Then Came You (2020)  — comedy

They Call Me Dr. Miami — documentary

The Thing About Harry  — comedy

Think Like a Dog — comedy/drama

This Is Personal — documentary

This Is Stand-Up — documentary

Those Who Wish Me Dead — drama

A Thousand Cuts (2020) — documentary

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy — documentary

Through the Night (2020) — documentary

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison — comedy

Time (2020) — documentary

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

The Tobacconist — drama

Together Together — comedy/drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free — documentary

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — drama

The Trip to Greece — comedy

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Trolls World Tour — animation

Troop Zero — comedy

The True Adventures of Wolfboy — drama

The Truffle Hunters — documentary

Trust (2021) — drama

The Truth — drama

The Turning (2020) — horror

The Twentieth Century — comedy

Two of Us (2021) — drama

Tyson — documentary

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Uncaged (also titled Prey) – horror

Uncorked — drama

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Under the Volcano (2021) — documentary

Unhinged (2020) — action

The Unholy (2021) — horror

The United States vs. Billie Holiday — drama

The Unthinkable — drama

Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — documentary

Uprooting Addiction — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

The Vanished (2020) (formerly titled Hour of Lead)— drama

Vanquish (2021) — action

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee — comedy

The Vigil (2021) — horror

The Village in the Woods — horror

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations — documentary

The Virtuoso (2021) — drama

Vivarium — sci-fi/drama

Voyagers — sci-fi/drama

Waiting for the Barbarians — drama

Wander Darkly — drama

The War With Grandpa — comedy

Watson — documentary

The Way Back (2020) — drama

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — documentary

We Are Little Zombies — comedy/drama

We Are Many — documentary

We Are the Radical Monarchs — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

We Broke Up — comedy

Welcome to Chechnya — documentary

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

What We Found — drama

What Will Become of Us — documentary

When the Streetlights Go On — drama

The Whistlers — drama

A White, White Day — drama

Widow of Silence — drama

Wig — documentary

Wild Mountain Thyme — drama

The Windermere Children — drama

Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!) (formerly titled Vas-y Coupe!) — documentary

Witch Hunt (2021) — horror

Wojnarowicz — documentary

The Wolf House — animation

The Wolf of Snow Hollow — horror

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Women (2021) — horror

Wonder Woman 1984 — action

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

Words on Bathroom Walls — drama

Work It — comedy/drama

The World to Come — drama

Wrath of Man — action

The Wretched — horror

A Writer’s Odyssey — fantasy/action

The Wrong Missy — comedy

XY Chelsea — documentary

Yellow Rose — drama

You Cannot Kill David Arquette — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

You Go to My Head — drama

You Should Have Left — horror

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn — documentary

Zack Snyder’s Justice League — action

Zappa — documentary

Zombi Child — horror

Review: ‘Luca’ (2021), starring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan and Sandy Martin

June 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) and Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) in “Luca” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Luca” (2021)

Directed by Enrico Casarosa 

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Riviera town in Italy, the animated film “Luca” features an all-white cast of characters portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In a world where sea monsters can transform into humans when they’re on land, a teenage sea monster rebels against his parents’ rules by hanging out on land, and he makes plans to run away with another teenage sea monster who has become his best friend.

Culture Audience: “Luca” will appeal primarily to people interested in predictable but enjoyable animated films about family, friendship and self-identity.

Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) and Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) in “Luca” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

How do you know you’re watching a Pixar movie, besides the great visuals? The lead characters are usually male and struggling with identity/self-esteem issues, they go on an adventure with least one sidekick, and they find out the meaning of life with some tearjerking moments. The End.

Pixar Animation Studios’ “Luca” (directed by Enrico Casarosa) follows this same formula to mostly entertaining results in this story about sea monsters and humans. It’s not a groundbreaking animated film, but it’s a definite crowd-pleaser that can appeal to several different age groups. The underwater scenes in the movie are the most visually stunning, but it’s not too surprising, considering that Pixar is also the studio behind 2003’s far superior, Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo,” which was set primarily underwater. “Luca” spends most of the story on land.

Pixar, which is owned by Disney, sets itself apart from Disney Animation Studios by putting more emphasis on original stories about characters who want to feel comfortable with themselves for the first time in their lives. Therefore, the adventures in Pixar tend to have more at stake on a personal level than defeating an evil villain, because low self-esteem is often the story’s biggest villain. The visuals in Pixar films also tend to be more intricate and dazzling than Disney Animation films.

However, it’s concerning that when the world’s population and movie audiences are at least 50% female, Pixar continues to have a majority of feature-length movies where the stories are dominated by male characters. Maybe that’s because almost all Pixar movies are written and directed by men. “Luca” is no exception. The “Luca” screenplay was written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones.

Pixar films tend to be very male-centric for lead protagonists, whereas Disney Animation films have more of a gender balance in their lead protagonists. (Disney princesses. Need we say more?) Disney Animation also has a mix of films that are from original and adapted screenplays, since many classic children’s books and fairy tales have been made into Disney animated films.

“Luca” takes place in Italy in an unnamed town near the Riviera, which is populated by sea monsters that can transform into humans when they’re on land. Because human beings have a reputation for killing sea monsters, it’s become normal for sea monsters to fear and mistrust humans, just as many humans fear and mistrust sea monsters. Therefore, it’s not unusual for parent sea monsters to teach their children never to go on land.

That’s the case with Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), an adolescent sea monster, who sounds like a boy who’s about 13 or 14. His overprotective parents—Daniela Paguro (voiced by Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo Paguro (voiced by Jim Gaffigan)—have instilled strict rules that Luca can never go on land (anything above the sea is called “the surface”) because it’s too dangerous. Daniela is more paranoid than Lorenzo is about Luca going on land because she’s certain that Luca will be hurt or killed if he does.

Luca’s parents keep him so sheltered that they don’t tell him that sea monsters have the ability to transform into humans when they’re on land and can go back to being sea monsters when underwater. If a sea monster is on land, and water touches a sea monster’s body, the sea monster’s body takes on sea monster physical characteristics, depending on how much water has made contact with the body. And you know that’s going to happen in this movie when Luca gets into some precarious situations.

Luca’s crusty-voiced grandmother, who doesn’t have a first name in the movie and is called Grandma (voiced by Sandy Martin), lives in the Paguro household. Grandma has been to the surface, where she says she hung out with humans to do things like play card games, so she isn’t afraid of the surface like Luca’s parents are. In one early scene in the movie, the family is having a meal together around a dining room table when Grandma starts to tell a happy memory of her time on the surface. However, Daniela gets upset and verbally shuts down Grandma by ordering her never to talk about her surface experiences to Luca.

Luca is a lonely sea monster who doesn’t have any sea monster friends underwater. He spends his days hanging out with fish. His favorite is a fish named Giuseppe. But since these fish can’t talk, Luca is starting to feel isolated. Luca secretly wishes that he could go to school with other kids, but his parents are apparently homeschooling him. His father breeds and handles show crabs for a living, and Luca is expected to do the same thing when he becomes an adult.

One day, Luca sees a young male sea monster in a diving outfit. At first, Luca is afraid because he thinks the individual in diving gear is a human. But the sea monster reveals himself to be a teenager who sounds like he’s about 15 or 16 years old. His name is Alberto Scorfano (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who ends up capturing Luca with a fishing hook and bringing Luca to the surface.

It’s how a terrified Luca finds out for the first time that he has the ability to become a human when he’s on land. Alberto lives in an abandoned castle tower, and he says that his single father is frequently away because of the father’s busy job demands. There’s no mention of Alberto’s mother in the story.

Alberto is a bit of a daredevil and mischief maker. In the movie’s opening scene, two fisherman—elderly Tommaso (voiced by Gino La Monica) and young Giacomo (voiced by Giacomo Giannotti)—are on a boat at night. Giacomo is concerned about fishing in this part of the water, because he’s heard stories about deadly sea monsters living in the area. Tommaso is dismissive of these stories. But then, a sea monster (which viewers later find out is Alberto) steals some of items from the boat, including a gramophone, and the two fishermen chase him away.

In his newfound human body, Luca feels scared but excited. Alberto teaches Luca how to walk on two feet and other ways to navigate himself as a human. The two boys end up becoming fast friends. Luca sneaks off to spend time with Alberto as much as possible while his parents are working or asleep. (Luca uses a makeshift decoy to fool his parents if they’re watching from far away.) However, Luca knows that what he’s doing is strictly forbidden by his parents. And it’s only a matter of time before they find out his secret.

One of the first things that Alberto tells Luca when they meet is that everything is better above the surface. Alberto also says that the Vespa scooter is “the greatest thing that humans ever made.” Alberto even has a poster that says that a Vespa scooter equals freedom. It’s Alberto’s dream to have a Vespa scooter so that he can travel around the world. Soon, this dream becomes a shared obsession for Alberto and Luca.

In order to get the money to buy a new Vespa and start this dream adventure lifestyle, Alberto wants to enter a scooter racing contest called the Portorosso Cup, which is held on the other side of the sea where the main part of the town is. At first, Luca is hesitant, but Alberto convinces him to be his racing partner in the Portorosso Cup. Alberto builds a makeshift scooter to enter the contest.

When Luca’s parents find out that he’s been sneaking away to go on land, they punish him by telling him that Luca will be temporarily sent to live with his stern Uncle Ugo (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen), who doesn’t seem to like children very much. Luca’s reaction? He runs away from home. Luca is now more motivated to win the contest so that he and Alberto can run away and start their adventurous life together without any parental supervision.

During Luca and Alberto’s blossoming friendship, Alberto teaches Luca how to get rid of self-doubt, which Alberto calls Bruno. There are many references in the movie to Bruno, which is the type of self-doubt that causes naysayer voices in someone’s head that tell people they can’t do something or that they’re not good enough. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t have actual Bruno voices because that would be too tacky and distract from the story.

The reigning Portorosso Cup champ is an arrogant bully named Ercole Visconti (voiced by Saverio Raimondo), who has won this contest several times in a row. And he has no intention of ever losing. Ercole predictably has two male sidekick followers—a brunette named Guido (voiced by Lorenzo Crisci) and a blonde named Ciccio (voiced by Peter Sohn)—who don’t speak for most of the movie and passively follow Ercole’s orders.

During the time that Alberto and Luca spend time in the town among humans, Alberto and Luca befriend a human teenager, who’s close to Luca’s age. Her name is Giulia Marcovaldo (voiced by Emma Berman), who is friendly and adventurous. She comes to the town every summer to live with her divorced father Massimo Marcovaldo (voiced by Marco Barricelli), who generously gives the three teens the money that they need for the Portorosso Cup entry fee.

Of course, getting to the Portorosso Cup isn’t without its problems. Ercole wants to thwart these young upstarts and does what he can to ruin their chances of winning the contest. Luca’s parents find out that he’s run away, and they go to the town to try to find him. Luca sees them, and has to spend a great deal of the movie trying to hide from his parents.

Meanwhile, Alberto gets jealous when Luca and Giulia start to become close. Arguments predictably ensue. In the preparations for the Portorosso Cup, the tables somewhat turn as Luca becomes more confident and Alberto becomes more insecure. And the Portorosso Cup isn’t just about winning, but in this movie it becomes a way for Luca, Alberto and Giulia to learn about how they can handle obstacles and what they really want to get out of life.

One of the best things about “Luca” is that it doesn’t clutter the movie with too many characters. The story is also very easy to follow, although it’s not very original, since a lot of animated/family films have already done the “high-stakes contest” as a plot device to have the heroes face off against the villains. All of the actors give fine performances, although it’s too bad that comedian Baron Cohen essentially has just a cameo as Uncle Ugo, whose time on screen is so brief it seems like a waste of Baron Cohen’s talents.

The most irritating flaw of “Luca” is its unrelenting promotion of Vespa. It comes off as aggressive shilling/product placement. And it somewhat taints the movie’s story because Vespa is elevated as this product brand that is the equivalent of freedom and happiness. It’s a shallow and materialistic message, even though the movie has a larger message of self-acceptance that’s more important.

The mistrust and prejudice that some humans and sea monsters have for one another are obvious metaphors of real-life bigotry. Just like in real life, some individuals are narrow-minded and hateful, while others are not. However, the movie has mixed messages about “assimilation” where individuals in the minority feel like they have to be more like individuals in the majority in order to be accepted.

Some viewers might have different opinions about what kinds of message this movie might be sending where a sea monster wants to live as a human. Alberto says in the beginning of the movie that human life on land is superior to animal life in the sea. That’s a message that probably won’t endear “Luca” to animal rights activists.

However, people need to see the movie to find out how these issues of species superiority and inferiority are handled. Because sea monsters can turn into humans, the movie takes the interpretation that they’re almost like biracial people who feel pressure to identify as one race over another. It’s enough to say that the main characters in “Luca” find out that real freedom comes from not being afraid to be who you are and not letting others put you into a narrow box of what they think you should be.

Disney+ will premiere “Luca” on June 18, 2021. The movie will have an exclusive, limited-run engagement at Disney-owned El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, beginning June 18, 2021.

Review: ‘Flashback’ (2021), starring Dylan O’Brien, Hannah Gross, Emory Cohen, Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe

June 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emory Cohen, Dylan O’Brien and Keir Gilchrist in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Flashback” (2021)

Directed by Christopher MacBride

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Flashback” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man in his early 30s tries to figure out why he’s having confusing nightmarish visions and memories of when he was in high school. 

Culture Audience: “Flashback” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent movies that are boring.

Maika Monroe in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The generically titled “Flashback” was originally titled “The Education of Frederick Fitzell.” There are at least three other feature films titled “Flashback,” and this one certainly won’t be considered the best. “Flashback” is an ironic title for this movie because it’s so forgettable. In addition to having an incoherent and nonsensical plot, “Flashback” is exceedingly monotonous and a waste of the film’s talented cast members, who have all been in much-better movies.

“Flashback” is supposed to be a psychological thriller, but the only thrill anyone might feel is when this slow train wreck of a movie finally ends. It’s one of those movies that people might keep watching with the hope that it might get better or that the story’s big mystery might reveal interesting answers. But “Flashback” fails to deliver anything intriguing on almost every level.

Written and directed by Christopher MacBride, “Flashback” takes place in an unnamed US. city but was actually filmed in Canada. The movie begins with Frederick “Fred” Fitzell (played by Dylan O’Brien) and his wife Karen (played by Hannah Gross) getting some bad news about Fred’s terminally ill, widowed mother (played by Liisa Repo-Martell), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Mrs. Fitzell’s physician Dr. Phillips (played by Donald Burda) informs Fred and Karen that Mrs. Fitzell has no more than two days to live.

The news is devastating, of course, but this movie then goes on a long and confused ramble about Fred’s hallucinations and flashback memories. Fred, who in his early 30s, has just started a new job as an information analyst at a company that does data analysis. Fred and Karen, who are happily married, have recently moved to a new apartment. They don’t have children but want to start a family.

Fred’s new job is the type where he has to wear a suit, and he works in a generically bland office in a generically bland cubicle. His boss Evelyn (played by Amanda Brugel) wants Fred to succeed, but recently he’s been slacking off by showing up late. And there’s a big upcoming presentation that he’s in charge of that Evelyn doubts that Fred will be able to handle. Fred assures her that he’s got everything under control.

What’s the reason for Fred being so distracted? He’s been having nightmarish hallucinations that involve memories of people he knew in high school. And some of the people in his hallucinations (which happen at various hours of the day or night) are people who are strangers to him.

One day, while Fred is in his car in an alley, he sees one of the strangers from his hallucinations—a scarred man (played by Connor Smith), who aggressively approaches the car. Fred is able to drive off before anything bad happens. The other strangers who regularly appear in his hallucinations are a tattooed woman (played by Maika Harper), a horned man (played by Ian Matthews), a pierced man (played by Aaron Poole) and a 12-year-old boy (played by Andrew Latter), who likes to wear hoodies.

The boy talks to Fred by saying one word with each sighting, like a message that Fred needs to put together. In one of the boy’s messages, he says, “I’m in your lobby.” When Fred goes to his apartment building’s lobby, he’s led on the type of wild goose chase that this movie is filled with, as time-wasting gimmicks.

One of the people Fred knew from high school was a former love interest named Cindy (played by Maika Monroe), whom Fred hasn’t seen or spoken to in the 13 years since he was in high school. Cindy keeps appearing in his dreams in a scenario where she seems to be in distress and says, “Fred, don’t let me go.” Fred can’t shake the feeling that Cindy is in danger.

He goes home to look at his high school yearbooks and notices that one of the yearbooks has Cindy’s class photo marked over with a dark pen, so that her face isn’t showing. What does it all mean? Don’t expect “Flashback” to give any clear answers.

The rest of the movie is a combination of Fred’s flashback memories, more hallucinations and scenes of Fred struggling with his mental health when these visions become too much for him. Fred goes back to his alma mater Fairgate High School and talks to an old schoolteacher named Mrs. Shouldice (played by Jill Frappier), who knew Fred and Cindy when they went to the school. The teacher says that Cindy never graduated because she just disappeared with no forwarding address.

Mrs. Shouldice also mentions the fictional psychedelic pill drug Mercury, and that student use of the drug was like a rampant plague in the school back then. Somehow, this triggers Fred’s memories of his experiences taking Mercury (also known as Merc) with Cindy and two other students he used to hang out with in high school: sleazy drug dealer Sebastian Bellamy (played by Emory Cohen) and eccentric misfit Andre (played by Keir Gilchrist). Does Fred try to find these former classmates? Of course he does.

This movie wastes a lot of time with psychedelic hallucinations that don’t go anywhere. There are also flashback memories to Fred’s childhood when he was a baby (played by Parker Antal and Emmett Antal) and when he was 6 years old (played by Myles Isen), which don’t give much insight into his family background, except to show that his mother sometimes got impatient with him.

Fred’s present-day life is also shoddily written. In several scenes, it’s shown that he likes to draw sketches of people. He even sketches people during boring business meetings. Is Fred’s interest in art explained in the movie? No. It’s one of many examples of how “Flashback” has a frustrating tendency to introduce things that look like it might add depth to the characters or might bring some substance to the story, but it’s just another unnecessary distraction.

The actors’ performances in the movie aren’t terrible, but they look like they’re going through the motions and don’t really have any deep emotional connections to the characters they’re portraying. That’s because the dialogue is just so bland and often terribly written. The movie’s cinematography is frequently cheap-looking and ugly.

And no amount of editing tricks can cover up that this movie is just an insipid, muddled mess. “Flashback” isn’t completely useless though. The movie is so dull that it can actually be used as an effective way to fall asleep.

Lionsgate released “Flashback” in select U.S. cinemas and VOD on June 4, 2021, and on digital, Blu-ray and DVD on June 8, 2021.

Review: ‘7 Days’ (2021), starring Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan

June 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni in “7 Days” (Photo by Eduardo Fierro)

“7 Days” (2021)

Directed by Roshan Sethi

Culture Representation: Taking place in Thermal, California, the romantic comedy film “7 Days” features a predominantly Indian and Indian American cast of characters (with a few white people who speak off camera) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two Indian Americans, whose parents are eager for them to find a spouse, meet on a blind date at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and find out that instead of having many things in common, they are complete opposites.

Culture Audience: “7 Days” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky romantic comedies with an “opposites attract” or COVID-19 pandemic angle, but the movie is often sluggishly paced and relies too much on stereotypes seen in many other romantic comedies.

It’s a little tiresome when American-made movies and TV programs stereotype men of Indian heritage as socially awkward, sometimes emasculated nerds. This over-used ethnic cliché is shoved in viewers’ faces to annoying levels in the romantic comedy “7 Days,” co-starring Karan Soni as a lovelorn Indian American who’s desperately looking for a wife. Geraldine Viswanathan plays his would-be love interest in the movie, but the story is told from the man’s perspective. “7 Days” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Roshan Sethi (who co-wrote the “7 Days” screenplay with Soni), “7 Days” is essentially a dull mumblecore movie with a COVID-19 gimmick. The movie is also Sethi’s feature-film directorial debut. And it just so happens that all of the people who appear on camera in the movie are of Indian heritage. This type of representation is rare for an American-made feature film, but it’s not enough to automatically guarantee that the movie will be great.

Unfortunately, “7 Days” has too many scenes that drag with dialogue that falls flat because of the clumsy comedic timing. Viswanathan seems to be more talented at believable facial expressions than Soni is, but there is no convincing romantic chemistry between these two actors at all. Whatever is going on between the characters that Soni and Viswanathan portray in the movie, viewers will get the impression that this isn’t a romance to root for but it’s going to be strictly a “friend zone” platonic relationship. The filmmakers want to make it look like a romance, but it’s all so phony and passionless.

The beginning of “7 Days” starts off with four real-life, middle-aged, happily married Indian couples talking about how they met, which was usually through arrangements by their families. (Soni’s parents are among the couples.) It’s an adorable introduction, but then the movie gets right to the fictional part of the story and the clichés. The next sequence is straight out of a Bollywood rom-com. Viewers find out that two unmarried young people have mothers who are scheming to find each of them a suitable spouse.

The bachelor and bachelorette are American children of Indian immigrants. The would-be couple are 31-year-old Ravi (played by Soni) and 28-year-old Rita (played by Viswanathan), who both live in California, but not in cities that are near each other. In voiceover narration, Ravi’s mother (played by Gita Reddy) and Rita’s mother (played by Zenobia Shroff) extol the attractive qualities of their respective children, as if they’re creating profiles for them on Indian matchmatching sites. (The mothers in this story do not have names.)

According to Ravi’s mother, Ravi is the youngest and her favorite of her three sons because he’s the most emotionally mature. Ravi works as a researcher at a local university. His mother describes him as kind and responsible. And he loves to cook vegetarian food.

According to Rita’s mother, Rita is a “free-spirit girl with strict moral values” whose hobbies include “caring for her future in-laws.” As for Rita’s food preferences, her mother says that Rita is a pescatarian, but she’s willing to be a vegetarian for the right family. Rita seems to be an only child, since there’s no mention of her having siblings.

In addition to having family members who play matchmaker, Ravi and Rita belong to several Indian-oriented dating sites. Ravi and Rita’s first date (a blind date) takes place in March 2020, during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the United States. Ravi has traveled to Thermal, California, where Rita lives. And their first uncomfortable date is a picnic in an empty reservoir. Rita and Ravi are both wearing masks, while Ravi also has on latex gloves.

Ravi is the epitome of an insecure, neurotic dork who has lived a very sheltered life. He says things that he thinks people want to hear so that they will like and accept him. And he often over-apologizes to the point that it gets irritating. In other words, he’s a typical sensitive male protagonist in a mumblecore movie.

Rita is more self-assured than Ravi, but she also has her insecurity issues. One of them is that she lives a double life. She presents herself as a straight-laced person to her parents, who don’t live near her, but she’s very different in real life. Rita is an unemployed slob whose parents are paying for her living expenses.

The conversation during Ravi and Rita’s picnic date doesn’t go very well. Ravi is nervous and sweaty. He tells a dumb joke about how he’s sweating just like he would in India. Rita seems unimpressed by Ravi. He’s also very conscious of following social distancing guidelines of staying at least six feet apart. At one point, he says to Rita with a forced laugh: “You’re so funny. We have great banter. Can you move back a few inches?”

Ravi likes to eat healthy food, and he doesn’t drink alcohol. He’s under the impression that Rita is also a teetotaler. When he brings out some lemonade in aluminum cans, Ravi is mortified to see that it’s hard lemonade.

He thinks he might have offended Rita for bringing alcoholic beverages on this date. He makes a profuse apology by saying that when he got the lemonade from the store, he didn’t look closely at the cans to see what type of lemonade it was. Rita tells him not to worry about it, but Ravi is the type of person who will worry about it.

This picnic date at the reservoir isn’t fun at all, so Rita suggests that they go back to her place. She lives in a middle-class house that looks tidy on the outside, but it’s very cluttered and unkempt on the inside. Rita is the type of person who will leave food wrappers, empty beer bottles and other garbage on tables and on the floor. It’s the first clue that Ravi and viewers have that Rita’s life, just like her house, is messy.

When they arrive at the house, Rita and Ravi both call their respective mothers to give them a summary of how the date is going so far. Even though there are no romantic sparks between Ravi and Rita, they both tell their mothers that this date has potential. Ravi is more invested because he’s traveled a long distance to meet Rita. And he’s the one who wants to get married in the near future.

Ravi doesn’t waste time in telling Rita what his life goals are: He’s soon going to buy a house, he wants to get married that year, and he wants to start a family the following year. He also plans to have three kids. Because Rita and Ravi met as a result of their mothers’ matchmaking efforts, it’s not considered too forward for Ravi to already be talking marriage on the first date. In fact, by traditional Indian custom, it’s not unusual at all.

As can happen in a very unrealistically contrived movie like “7 Days,” Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be available until the next morning, so he won’t be able to drive back home that night. Rita recommends a hotel nearby where he can stay for the night. Ravi calls the hotel and finds out it will be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ravi doesn’t do what most people would do: Make a reservation at another hotel.

In reality (not in this movie), during the pandemic lockdown period, most hotels were still open and desperate for business. Hotels had plenty of vacancies because they experienced an enormous number of reservation cancellations during the lockdown period. But that reality is not in “7 Days,” because the entire movie is based on the contrivance of Ravi staying at Rita’s place so that the story can go exactly where you know it’s going to go.

At first, Ravi says he’s only going to stay until his rental car is ready. But the title of the movie already telegraphs how many days he’s really going to stay at Rita’s place. And in a formulaic rom-com like this one, that means he’s supposed to go through several uncomfortable moments because he and Rita are opposites.

The unrealistic plot developments continue. Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be ready for three days, which is really the movie’s way of extending the time that Ravi has to stay at Rita’s house. And because there’s a “shelter in place” quarantine mandate in California, Ravi and Rita don’t go outside for most of the movie.

The “uptight nerd having awkward moments with the uninhibited love interest” is an angle that’s been done in many other rom-coms, and it’s played up to repetitive and ultimately tedious levels in “7 Days.” After Rita agrees to let Ravi temporarily stay at her house, he goes in the bathroom and is horrified to see a dildo on the sink. “Oh, this can’t be happening,” Ravi says to himself, as if he’s just seen a real body part.

Soon after Ravi finds out that he’s going to be staying at Rita’s place, he starts to really regret it. It’s because he overhears Rita on the phone, having raunchy sex talk with someone she calls “Daddy.” At first, Ravi thinks that Rita is talking to her father in an incestuous way. Ravi is naturally shocked and disgusted, but he made a wrong assumption.

Rita is actually talking to her older married lover who’s separated from his wife, but this married lover is vague with Rita on when he’s going to divorce is wife. He seems to be leading Rita on with an excuse that things are complicated for him in his marriage. “Daddy” never appears on camera in the movie and his real name is never revealed. He’s voiced by Mark Duplass, one of the executive producers of “7 Days,” who’s an actor/filmmaker with a lot of mumblecore movies in his filmography.

Most of Ravi and Rita’s interactions consist of more painfully unfunny banter. It isn’t long before Ravi finds out that Rita is almost everything that he doesn’t want in a woman: Rita says she never wants to get married. She drinks a lot of alcohol. And she loves junk food. There’s a scene where Rita enthusiastically eats fried chicken, even though her online profile says that she’s a pescatarian.

Ravi’s and Rita’s lifestyle differences also extend to the type of movies that they like to watch. Ravi is a big fan of Bollywood movies, but Rita doesn’t care for this type of entertainment. She’s a lot more into American culture overall than Ravi is. And she seems to be faking to her parents that she’s interested in the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, because she doesn’t want to lose her parents’ financial support.

Issues of gender roles inevitably come up, as they tend to do in rom-coms. Ravi makes an offhand remark that Rita’s voice sounds like the instructional service app Siri. Rita immediately gets defensive and says, “You mean I sound subservient.” Ravi tells Rita that he identifies as a “male feminist.” Still, Ravi is slightly alarmed and surprised that Rita doesn’t like to cook. And he ends up cooking for both of them.

Rita has this to say to Ravi about why she doesn’t see marriage in her future: “It’s just someone else to fight and disappoint and hate. It’s exhausting.” And when fidgety Ravi gets restless in the house, Rita suggests that they just sit around and do nothing. “The less you do, the less you do,” she says.

This type of boring and witless dialogue goes on for much of the movie. Predictably, Rita spikes Ravi’s drink with alcohol to loosen him up. He gets angry that she spiked his drink, but then he gets drunk and does an atrocious standup comedy routine for Rita. While under the influence of alcohol, Ravi opens up about feeling vulnerable and self-conscious that his parents are divorced.

And then, someone in this mismatched duo starts having a persistent cough and develops a fever. And you know what that means in a rom-com with a COVID-19 gimmick. This plot development isn’t handled very well in the movie. “7 Days” essentially dismisses all the deaths and tragedies that people have experienced because of this pandemic and treats this harsh reality as something that would get in the way of a cutesy rom-com plot. If anyone dies of COVID-19 in this movie, it’s a tragedy that this movie brushes off as trivial.

Even in March 2020, during the early part of the pandemic when this movie takes place, people were aware of how quickly large numbers of people were dying from COVID-19. But in this movie, Ravi and Rita are depicted as being in a self-absorbed (and irresponsible) “bubble” where they don’t care to be informed about what’s happening in the news about the pandemic. They’re more concerned about doing things like a virtual exercise workout routine using Rita’s laptop computer.

Viswanathan and Soni are very talented and have had more appealing roles elsewhere. In “7 Days,” they both play characters that just aren’t credible as a romantic couple. Ravi’s neuroses are on full display, but Rita is an underwritten and underdeveloped character. She’s supposed to be the “wacky one” in the relationship, but her personality is ultimately hollow.

Viewers never find out why Rita wants to live an aimless, unemployed life. Her hopes and dreams are never mentioned. How she was raised by her parents, her work history and her social life (other than her affair with “Daddy”) remain a mystery. By the end of the movie, viewers still won’t know much about Rita.

And when you have a romantic comedy where one of the people in the would-be couple remains an enigma, the dialogue is wretchedly monotonous, and there’s no realistic chemistry between the two main actors who are supposed to be this couple, the end result is a disappointing and off-kilter rom-com that isn’t funny or romantic.

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, June 14 – Sunday, June 20

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

VH1’s new series “Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadlypremieres its second episode on Monday, June 14, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Monday, June 14

“ABC News Special: The Housewife and the Hustler”
Monday, June 14, 12 a.m. ET, Hulu

“American Greed”
“The ‘Con’ in Congress” (Episode 194)
Monday, June 14, 10 p.m., CNBC

“I, Sniper”
“Your Children Are Not Safe” (Episode 106)
Monday, June 14, 10 p.m., Vice

“Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadly”
“TBA” (Episode 102)
Monday, June 14, 10 p.m., VH1

Tuesday, June 15

No new true crime episodes on this date.

Wednesday, June 16

“Criminal Planet”
“New Zealand’s Gang Explosion” (Episode 106)
Wednesday, June 16, 12 a.m., Vice

“The Murder Tapes
“She Set Me Up” (Episode 507)
Wednesday, June 16, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Court Cam”
Episode 336
Wednesday, June 16, 9 p.m., A&E

“Court Cam”
Episode 337
Wednesday, June 16, 9:30 p.m., A&E

“Narco Wars: The Mob
“How E Busted the Bull”
Wednesday, June 16, 10 p.m., National Geographic

“Court Cam Presents: Under Oath”
“Katie Magbanua”(Episode 105)
Wednesday, June 16, 10 p.m., A&E

Thursday, June 17

“Dateline”
“Someone Was Out There”  
Thursday, June 17, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Deadly Women”
“Tainted Love” (Episode 1401) **Season Premiere**
Thursday, June 17, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“The First 48 Presents Critical Minutes”
“A Family Affair” (Episode 120)
Thursday, June 17, 9 p.m., A&E

“Sins of the City”
“Tampa” (Episode 106)
Thursday, June 17, 9 p.m., TV One

“Fear Thy Neighbor”
“Fence Face-Off” (Episode 710)
Thursday, June 17, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Friday, June 18

“Snapped: Killer Couples”
“De’Asia Page and Jared Kemp” (Episode 1509) 
Friday, June 18, 8 p.m., Oxygen

Saturday, June 19

No new true crime episodes on this date.

Sunday, June 20

“In the Valley of Sin”
(Episode 107)
Sunday, June 20, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Fox Nation

“Snapped”
“Eunice Cristina Rodriguez” (Episode 2911)
Sunday, June 20, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Mastermind of Murder”
“Real Estate Revenge” (Episode 110)
Sunday, June 20, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Murder Nation”
“Southern Harm” (Episode 101) **Series Premiere**
Sunday, June 20, 9 p.m., HLN

“Murder Nation”
“Back Country Backstabber” (Episode 103)
Sunday, June 20, 10 p.m., HLN

“Signs of the Psychopath”
“I Have a Surprise for You” (Episode 205)
Sunday, June 20, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Movie Theaters and Home Video

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing new movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. 

No true crime movies premiering in theaters and home video this week.

Radio/Podcasts

No new true crime podcast series premiering this week.

Events

Events listed here are not considered endorsements by this website. All ticket buyers with questions or concerns about the event should contact the event promoter or ticket seller directly.

All start times listed are local time, unless otherwise noted.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person events in the U.S. have been cancelled or postponed if the event was expecting at least 50 people in the year 2021. Many events that would normally be in-person are now being held as virtual/online events.

No new true crime events this week.

Review: ‘All Light, Everywhere,’ starring Steve Tuttle, Ross McNutt, Robert Corso and Archie Williams

June 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Visual effects of a focus group participant in New York City in “All Light, Everywhere” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“All Light, Everywhere”

Directed by Theo Anthony

Culture Representation: The documentary “All Light, Everywhere” features a group of predominantly white people (with some African Americans), talking about policing through video surveillance, facial recognition and other forms of visual identification.

Culture Clash: Opinions vary on how increased video surveillance and use of facial recognition technology can affect privacy and social justice issues.

Culture Audience: “All Light, Everywhere” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in how video surveillance technology is used in modern policing, with perspectives heavily slanted toward those who are in law enforcement or those who profit from this technology.

A 2017 solar eclipse watcher in Charleston, South Carolina, in “All Light, Everywhere” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“All Light, Everywhere” gives a broad—but not essential—overview of the intersections between video surveillance technology and law enforcement. The documentary can be informative, but it sometimes loses focus and overlooks some major issues. The movie confirms what’s obvious to most people who are aware of social injustice: There’s a huge racial disparity between those who are controlling and profiting from video surveillance used by law enforcement and those are who usually the targets of surveillance profiling.

Directed by Theo Anthony, “All Light, Everywhere” attempts to do something a little different from what most documentaries would do when covering this hot-button topic: Instead of having the typical blend of archival footage, documentary interviews and on-location footage, “All Light, Everywhere” tries to look artsy by including information and footage that has to do with the biology of eyesight. Throughout the documentary, there are several close-ups of people’s eyes. The documentary has voiceover narration by Keaver Brenai that’s almost robotic, to make “All Light, Everywhere” sound almost like a scientific documentary. It isn’t.

“All Light, Everywhere” opens with striking visuals, by having close-ups of the insides of eyes, as the narrator explains that the optic nerve is a blind spot. In this documentary that gives a lot of screen time to discussing and showing body cam technology and aerial surveillance, there are repeated mentions that no matter how advanced this technology might get, there will always be blind spots. The point is made several times that who is controlling and editing the surveillance footage can be one big blind spot too.

The documentary doesn’t come right out and say the words “white male privilege,” but it’s very obvious when looking at who’s been put in charge of this technology and who gets the biggest leadership roles in deciding when and where this technology will be placed. In fact, the people who get the most screen time to talk in this documentary are three white men who represent the three factions that are the most involved in how video surveillance is used when policing communities:

The Corporate Manufacturer: Steve Tuttle is Axon International’s principal of TASER CEW sales and the company’s former vice president of strategic communications, the title that he had when he gave this documentary film crew a tour of Axon headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. Tuttle’s guided tour of Axon (which includes several product demonstrations) takes up about 20 minutes of this 109-minute movie. Axon is best known for being the market leader in making Taser guns, but the company also manufactures and sells body cams used by law enforcement.

The Law Enforcement Officer: Sergeant Robert Corso of the Baltimore Police Department is shown leading a training session for Baltimore PD officers on the use of body cams. Just like the Axon company tour, this training session is another big part of this documentary that looks very much like it would be right at home in an electronic press kit. (There’s a fairly even mix of white cops and non-white cops in this training session.) The documentary crew wasn’t allowed to film the room’s video screen when Corso played footage of a real-life cop/civilian confrontation caught on body cam. However, the cops’ reactions to this body cam footage are worth seeing, because these reactions are the most spontaneous part of this training session that’s in the documentary.

The Entrepreneur: Ross McNutt, CEO/founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, can probably be considered the most divisive person in the documentary. From May to August 2016, his private company (headquartered in Dayton, Ohio) secretly flew a surveillance plane in Baltimore to record video footage of street protests against the police’s 2015 shooting death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was African American. According to “All Light, Everywhere,” not even the mayor of Baltimore knew about this secret surveillance. When the surveillance was made public, it caused a firestorm of controversy that continues today over how much control private companies or governments should have when conducting this type of surveillance and how they use data. Persistent Surveillance Systems has software called EyeView, which McNutt describes as being like a live version of Google Earth.

The most impactful part of “All Light, Everywhere” is not in the canned and rehearsed talk given in company guided tours or in police training sessions. It’s in the raw dialogue that’s shown during an informal community meeting that McNutt asked for, in an attempt to get back in the good graces of Baltimore’s African Americans, who felt that his company’s secret surveillance plane (which has since been grounded) targeted them over any other racial group. In the documentary, McNutt openly says that he wants enough community support so that he can get permission to start up the plane surveillance again.

The meeting isn’t very large (less than 20 people seemed to be in attendance), but everyone in the meeting except for McNutt is black or African American, and there’s only one woman in the room. The documentary notes that McNutt hired an African American man named Archie Williams, who lives in Baltimore, to be a “community liaison” for McNutt to persuade Baltimore’s African American community that his company’s surveillance will be good for the community. McNutt’s main argument to get people on his side is that the surveillance will help deter crime. McNutt lets Williams do most of the talking/sales pitch on behalf of Persistent Surveillance Systems, but Williams and McNutt get an expected amount of skepticism and opposition.

The discussion quickly turns heated, as one man (whose face is blurred out in the documentary, but he identifies himself as a Haitian immigrant) voices the most distrust of what McNutt wants to do. This concerned citizen says that he has serious reservations about how the surveillace footage is going to be used without people’s permission. He also vigorously opposes a private company being in charge of this type of surveillance, compared to a government-run agency that is more likely to be accountable to the public.

The debate devolves into a loud argument, while McNutt can be seen either smirking, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, or slightly stammering as he tries to explain his point of view. The only woman in the meeting seems to be in favor of what McNutt wants to do because she thinks the extra surveillance will be effective in preventing crime. Some of the men also seem to support what McNutt says his intentions are. But quite a few of the men are opposed. One of the objectors mentions that in this era where there are cameras in so many public places, all that video surveillance still doesn’t deter criminals in high-crime areas.

And then there’s the issue of race in the U.S. criminal justice system, because people of color who commit crimes get disproportionately harsher punishments than white people who commit the same crimes. The documentary points out that because aerial surveillance works best in areas that aren’t hidden by trees, the surveillance is less likely to record criminal activity in many tree-heavy areas. These tree-heavy areas are usually in predominantly white, suburban neighborhoods. Financially disadvantaged people and people of color in big cities tend to live in urban areas that are less-populated by trees, compared to the suburbs. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude which types of neighborhoods that aerial surveillance will most likely be used for policing.

What this documentary should have had is insightful analysis of how people are profiting from selling surveillance data to law enforcement and other entities. That information is a lot more revealing than showing demos of body cams. (The 2020 documentary “Coded Bias” has an excellent documentary investigation of how surveillance and facial recognition technology are used and abused in racial profiling. )

It can certainly be appreciated that “All Light, Everywhere” director Anthony made an attempt for this documentary to not follow a predictable format. For example, the movie intersperses the contemporary footage with various segments about the history of public surveillance in the pre-digital age and how that surveillance was used by law enforcement and during wartime. Drones are basically doing an improved, easier-to-control version of what carrier pigeons used to do in the pre-technology era.

The documentary also mentions 19th century pioneers Alphonse Bertillon, a French police officer who introduced the concept of mug shot measurements; Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German who’s credited with the idea of putting cameras on pigeons; and Francis Galton, a British photographer whose system of pictorial statistics was an early form of picture composites. “All Light, Everywhere” points out that picture composites can be very problematic in identifying people, because there’s a high risk of mistaken identity from using composites, which aren’t considered court-admissible evidence in law enforcement.

Although many parts of “All Light, Everywhere” are interesting, the movie sometimes veers off-topic and tries to be artsy for artsiness sake when that screen time could’ve been better used to stick to the topic. For example, there didn’t need to be several cutaway shots of people gathered outdoors in Charleston, South Carolina, to look at the 2017 solar eclipse. There are only so many times that viewers of this documentary need to see this type of B-roll footage before it gets tiresome and it looks unnecessary.

Also irrelevant to the documentary is its footage of people in New York City who are participating in a focus group where they have to wear electrode-monitoring headsets. The documentary never explains what this focus group is looking at and evaulating. And that’s a big omission for a documentary about how the public might be affected by video surveillance technology that’s used by law enforcement. Better editing was seriously needed for this documentary. .

“All Light, Everywhere” also ends on a completely off-topic note by mentioning that the filmmakers had footage of students at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore who were given an assignment to write, film and edit their own TV pilot episode. An epilogue statement says that the filmmakers originally intended “one of the main threads” in the documentary to be this student experience of making a TV episode for an imaginary show, but it didn’t make the final cut. Instead, a few minutes of the footage play over the documentary’s end credits.

Viewers will be wondering why anyone thought it was a good idea to have this off-topic student footage in the movie at all. It’s another example of how this documentary would have been improved with better editing. “All Light, Everywhere” is only Anthony’s second feature-length documentary. It’s easy to speculate that a more experienced documentary director would have made better editing choices. Despite the documentary’s flaws, there’s enough compelling footage for people interested in the subject matter of law enforcement’s use of video surveillance. However, most of the technology in the movie will look very outdated in about five years.

Super LTD released “All Light, Everywhere” in select U.S. cinemas on June 4, 2021.

Review: ‘Funhouse’ (2021), starring Valter Skarsgård, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Khamisa Wilsher, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Amanda Howells and Jerome Velinsky

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Howells, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Mathias Retamal, Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield and Valter Skarsgård in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” (2021)

Directed by Jason William Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North American city, the horror flick “Funhouse” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two Latinos, one African American and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A twisted multimillionaire chooses eight strangers to live in a murder house, where they are contestants on a “Big Brother” type of reality show that awards $5 million to the last contestant who can stay alive.

Culture Audience: “Funhouse” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that pander to the lowest common denominator with atrocious screenwriting, acting and directing.

Christopher Gerard, Karolina Benefield, Khamisa Wilsher and Dayleigh Nelson in “Funhouse” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Funhouse” is the epitome of everything that people despise about bad horror movies. Even die-hard horror fans will be disgusted by the abyss of stupidity and awful filmmaking in “Funhouse.” There are trash dumps and toilets that have more redeeming qualities than “Funhouse.”

In addition to being sexist, dull and horribly acted, “Funhouse” has a very misleading title because it’s no fun to watch this movie at all. All of the characters are self-absorbed dolts, while the entire movie (written and directed by Jason William Lee) is built on the loathsome concept that people around the world would love to watch a “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants are murdered in cruel, bloody and gruesome ways. The last contestant standing will get a $5 million prize.

This gimmick concept isn’t shocking for a horror movie. What’s offensive is how shockingly bad “Funhouse” is in executing this concept in the movie. There’s a plot twist at the end that viewers are going to hate because it makes absolutely no sense. And leading up to that idiotic final scene, it’s a tedious and repetitive slog of horrendously bad dialogue and airheaded young people getting slaughtered. What also makes “Funhouse” so insufferable is that it’s obvious that the filmmakers thought they were making a good movie, so there’s the stink of pretension to this film too.

The opening scene of “Funhouse” is an indication of the dreck to come. A gory murder has just taken place in a living room of a mansion somewhere in North America. (“Funhouse” was actually filmed in Canada.) The smirking lout who owns the mansion looks on sadistically, as a pretty young blonde has been using a baseball bat to beat to death another young woman, whose bloody body is lying on the floor and is probably dead already. Much later in the movie, it’s revealed that this creepy psycho is a multimillionaire named Nero Alexander (woodenly played by Jerome Velinsky), a tech entrepreneur who hates people who find fame through reality TV or social media.

The woman who committed this vicious murder is not identified by name in the movie, but in the film’s credits, she’s listed as Gilda “The Mad” Batter (played by Debs Howard), and it soon becomes clear that she’s become a murderer for money. Nero sneers at Gilda, “You’re not finished. You still have one final obligation.” And so, after Gilda finishes with her baseball bat beatdown, she stabs the murder victim, carves out the heart, and serves the heart to Nero on a silver platter.

Nero curtly says to some bodyguards nearby: “Clean her up, give her the money, and get her the fuck out of here.” An exhausted and bloodied Gilda, who seems on the verge of collapsing, is given a suitcase full of cash. Nero’s thugs grab her and practically push her out of the room. Now that it’s been established that Nero gets pleasure from watching people murder, the rest of this sordid story shows how he’s the secret mastermind behind a new “Big Brother”-styled reality show where the contestants want a chance to win a $5 million cash prize, but the show is really a setup to massacre people.

The contestants are all in their 20s or 30s, and they arrive from around the world. At first, the contestants think that it’s a legitimate show. They soon find out that they will be imprisoned and forced to commit murder in “survival of the fittest” challenges. The last contestant who manages to stay alive is the grand prize winner. All of the contestants were chosen because they found fame on social media or reality TV.

And only in a dumb movie like “Funhouse,” this livestreamed show becomes a global sensation. There are several cutaway shots throughout the movie depicting people around the world (including some children) watching the show, as if they’re watching a harmless soap opera. In some of these viewer scenes, they’re essentially rooting for which contestants will live or die. It’s just all so moronic.

The eight strangers picked to live in this torture house are:

  • Kasper Nordin (played by Valter Skarsgård), a reality star originally from Sweden who found fame in America as a backup singer of a famous American diva named Darla Drake (played by Kylee Bush). Kasper and Darla fell in love, got married, and starred in their own reality show together called “Darla and Kasper: Back-Up Love,” before the marriage crumbled and his popularity declined.
  • Lonnie Byrne (played by Khamisa Wilsher), an American whose claim to fame is starring on a show similar to “The Bachelorette,” getting engaged twice, and being dumped by both fiancés.
  • James “Headstone” Malone (played by Christopher Gerard), a disgraced mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighter/reality TV star who’s originally from Ireland and the most aggressively obnoxious out of all the contestants.
  • Ula La More (played by Karolina Benefield), an Instagram model from an unnamed European country. Ula is famous for her sexy image, but she looks like she’s stuck in 2005 and trying to be like how Paris Hilton was back then.
  • Ximena Torres (played by Gigi Saul Guerrero), a celebrity gossip blogger from Mexico. Ximena is cynical, likes to talk tough, and doesn’t hesitate to start a jealous catfight with anyone she thinks is a bimbo. In other words, you can almost have a countdown to the battle that Ximena and Ula will inevitably have.
  • Dex “El Shocker” Souza (played by Mathias Retamal), a reality star/rapper, who seems to have an instant connection with Ximena when they first arrive in the house.
  • Nevin Evinsmith (played by Dayleigh Nelson), a fidgety Brit who’s famous for having some kind of entertainment/extreme stunt YouTube channel.
  • Cat Zim (played by Amanda Howells), originally from the Philippines and a quiet former chess champ who found fame on a reality TV show called “The Real Witches of Westchester.”

Kasper, who has no real talent at anything, has been trying to cling to fame by being on reality shows, but he’s gotten tired of it and wants to be known as a legitimate entertainer and is trying to break into acting. There’s a brief scene early on in the film of Kasper talking to his agent by phone and telling his agent that he doesn’t want to do this “Big Brother” type of reality show, which is called “Furcas’ House of Fun.” His agent insists that the show will boost Kasper’s sagging popularity, because Kasper was made to look like a gold digging villain in his divorce from Darla. “It’s redemption time,” the agent tells Kasper.

It’s the closest thing that “Funhouse” has to a backstory for any of the characters, since Kasper is portrayed as the main protagonist. MMA jerk Headstone, who has a ridiculous-looking green Mohawk, is cocky, rude and absolutely annoying. Viewers might be shocked to know that the actor portraying Headstone is Irish is in real life, because his acting is so bad that it sounds like he has a fake Irish accent. What isn’t surprising is that Headstone and Ula hook up at some point in the movie.

The contestants have been brought to a mansion, where in the main living room, they are greeted on a big video screen by their “host” Furcas, a computer-generated avatar made to look like a talking panda. Furcas is really Nero in a back room somewhere with his voice in disguise and wearing some type of computer headset so that he can control Furcas’ physical motions. The disguised voice has that distorted computer sound that makes Furcas sound genderless, but Furcas makes it clear early on that a man is controlling the Furcas avatar and all the mayhem that ensues.

The contestants are told that because there are cameras in every single room of the house, if a contestant has any nudity on camera, the contestant can choose whether or not the cameras will blur out the nudity. It’s the only control these contestants really have while they’re in the house. Everything else is dictated to them and decided for them.

The contestants are warned that if try to leave the house, they will be disqualified. Later, they find out they can’t leave the house anyway because they’re being held as prisoners. They are also told that they’re required to give a five-minute confessional interview every day.

Just like the viewer-based voting on “Big Brother,” viewers of “Furcas’ House of Fun” vote on which contestants they want to stay in the house. The two contestants with the lowest percentage of votes have to face off against each other in a challenge that’s really a battle for their lives. The challenges are predictably heinous.

There’s one called Piñata Party, where a contestant is blindfolded and told to hit a piñata with a baseball bat, but the piñata is really a bound-and-gagged contestant who ends up being beaten to death. And when the blindfold comes off, the person holding the bat is horrified to find out that they’ve just committed murder. “Funhouse” wants viewers to believe the absurdity that a blindfolded person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between hitting a piñata and hitting a human body.

Another challenge is called the Blind Rage Challenge, where two contestants go after each other with axes in a pitch-dark room. And the challenges get worse. In the Forget Me Not Challenge, a contestant fails a memory test and is then tied up and stretched to death. It’s not an original way to die in a horror movie, because it’s been done before in other horror flicks, but you get the idea of how low “Funhouse” will go for murder scenes.

Furcas has anonymous and disguised male assistants interacting with the contestants to do things like bring them meals and monitor the activities during the deadly challenges. These assistants, who do not speak, dress in dark suits and wear panda helmet-sized masks that look like they’re made out of papier-mâché. The production design for the house is as tacky as this movie. The house’s main room, where Furcas gives instructions by video, has nude female mannequins on display in glass cases.

It doesn’t take long for this misogynistic movie to objectify women. The only people who have nudity in the film’s male-female sex scenes are the women. And it should come as no surprise that there’s a scene where Instagram model Ula bares her breasts on camera in a desperate bid to get enough viewer votes to stay in the house.

Later, Cat masturbates on camera for the same reason. While she’s masturbating, Cat looks at the camera and makes a knife-slitting gesture across her throat, as a way to tell the sicko behind this show that she’s going to get revenge. It’s all so cheesy and ridiculous.

As the body count piles up, “Furcas’ House of Fun” gets some criticism from the public, including Kasper’s ex-wife Darla, who does a TV interview pleading for the remaining contestants to be set free. The movie has several cutaway shots to a snarky YouTuber called Pete Sake (played by Bradley Duffy), who constantly mocks and ridicules “Furcas’ House of Fun.” Law enforcement is trying to track down the culprit behind the show, but Nero has covered his tracks by making his computer identity untraceable and setting up wild goose chases for anyone trying to find out the location of the house.

Nero is so confident that he won’t get caught that he gives a TV interview where he disparages the “famewhore” mentality of wanting to becoming famous for being on reality TV or social media. His rants sound a lot like the rants that Furcas spews on “Furcas’ Fun House.” He rails against “the Kardashianization of humanity.” Nero having the same speech pattern as Farcas’ speech pattern would be a big clue to Farcas’ identity in the real world, but not in this movie. Nero’s TV interview is just another dumb plot development in an idiotic story.

Just when you think “Funhouse” couldn’t get any worse, the last 15 minutes prove that this movie is utterly revolting and worthless. And there’s nothing scary about this so-called horror movie. The only fear that “Funhouse” might generate is the fear that some misguided filmmakers will think that this abominable movie deserves a sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “Funhouse” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on May 28, 2021.

Review: ‘Phobias’ (2021), starring Leonardo Nam, Martina García, Hana Mae Lee, Lauren Miller Rogen, Macy Gray and Ross Partridge

June 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Leonardo Nam and Martina García in “Phobias” (Photo by Vertical Entertainment)

“Phobias” (2021)

Directed by Camilla Belle, Maritte Lee Go, Chris von Hoffmann, Joe Sill and Jess Varley

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror anthology movie “Phobias” features a predominantly white cast characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Five people with five different phobias are held captive by a mad scientist who does experiments on them, with the goal to create an invention that will make their phobias come to life.

Culture Audience: “Phobias” will appeal mostly to people who don’t mind watching low-budget horror flicks that are plagued by substandard screenwriting, mediocre-to-bad acting and very derivative scare gimmicks.

Lauren Miller Rogen and Mackenzie Brooke Smith in “Phobias” (Photo by Vertical

The ambitious concept of the horror flick “Phobias” is so terribly mishandled that the end result is a movie that relies on boring and over-used clichés. The movie’s tone and acting are uneven. The screenwriting is sloppy. “Phobias” has an anthology format, with five different stories by five different directors, all clumsily tied together with a common theme: Five different people with five different phobias are kidnapped by a mad scientist who experiments on his victims so that he can create an invention that will manifest their phobias. The anthology is told in six chapters: “Robophobia,” “Outpost 37,” “Vehophobia,” “Ephebiaphobia,” “Hoplophobia” and “Atelophobia.”

“Robophobia” (written and directed Joe Sill) is the first story in the anthology, and it’s the one that’s filmed the best—although that’s not saying much because nothing in this movie rises above the level of predictable and mediocre. Robophobia is the fear of robots, drones, artificial intelligence and any robot-like machine. Set in Los Angeles, “Robophobia” focuses on a lonely bachelor named Johnny (played by Leonardo Nam), who lives in a small, cluttered dingy apartment with his wheelchair-bound, widowed father Jung-Soo (played by Steve Park), who wears an oxygen tube for his breathing problems.

The movie doesn’t go into details about what Johnny does for a living, but he’s a computer nerd and he’s financially struggling. Johnny doesn’t have a social life either, since there’s no indication that he has any friends. One night, after buying some computer supplies that he can barely pay for at an independently owned electronics store, Johnny (who is minding his own business) is bullied by about three or four random thugs on the street.

The leader of this group is a racist scumbag named Dirk (played by Micah Hauptman), who threatens Johnny by saying, “Look at me again at me the way you did inside of there [the store], and I’ll knock your fucking lights out, China boy.” Johnny replies, “I’m Korean.” Dirk snarls back, “Same fucking thing to me.” Johnny avoids getting into a fight by quickly riding off on his bike, but Dirk and his goons catch up to Johnny and beat him up.

At home, Johnny doesn’t tell his father how he’s gotten the injuries, and he refuses to get medical treatment or file a police report. Not long after getting assaulted, Johnny starts getting mysterious text messages on his computer from a someone or something that seems to know everything about Johnny’s life, including what he’s doing at that exact moment. The mystery messenger knows facts, such as Johnny has a sick father, what Johnny is currently wearing, and how much money is in Johnny’s bank account.

The mystery messenger asks if Johnny wants a friend. Johnny is intrigued but also paranoid. It isn’t long before the mystery messenger starts speaking to Johnny in an eerie computer voice on Johnny computer and on his phone. The voice says to Johnny about Johnny’s unhappy life: “I can help, but I need your help.” Johnny asks, “To do what?” The voice replies, “To stop bad things. I want to be part of your world, the real world, to see what you see.”

Johnny soon finds out what this mysterious force behind the voice is capable of doing. A neighbor named Mr. Romero (played by Gerardo de Pablos), who lives on the same floor, has been very abusive to his wife. Johnny has witnessed some of this abuse. And then one night, Johnny hears a major ruckus and screaming coming from the Romeros’ apartment. Johnny sees that Mr. Romero has been burned to death, with his terrified wife (played by Katia Gomez) wailing over his charred body. It’s implied that Mr. Romero was set on fire, but not by his wife.

Viewers can easily predict what happens next. One night, while out on the street, Johnny is cornered again by Dirk and his gang of bullies. This time, Johnny is emboldened by his “friend” with the computer voice, which has told Johnny that Dirk’s father abused Dirk when Dirk was a child. Johnny figures out that this past abuse is the reason why Dirk has become a violent bully, and Johnny says that to Dirk’s face.

Dirk’s reaction confirms that what Johnny said is true. At first, Dirk is shocked that Johnny knows this personal information, and then Dirk gets very angry. Just as he’s about to beat up Johnny, something bizarre happens: An electrical entity seems to appear, and Dirk bursts into flames. Dirk’s fellow thugs run away in fear. Johnny (and this movie’s viewers) know that what caused this spontaneous combustion is the same force that’s uses the computer voice to talk to Johnny.

Although this mystery force has killed the “bad people” in Johnny’s orbit, the camaraderie between Johnny and this mystery force doesn’t last long. The mystery force tells Johnny that Johnny is torturing his sick father by letting him live instead of letting him die. Johnny vehemently disagrees and gets alarmed when the mystery force says that it wants to take the father.

What follows is a somewhat ludicrous chase scene in the apartment, where Johnny and his father try to get away from the mystery force, which has now manifested itself as a giant, shapeless electrical energy. After Johnny begs for mercy, the mystery forces says that it will let Johnny and his father live if Johnny follows this order: “Find me another.”

The movie abruptly shifts to the next chapter titled “Outpost 37” (written and directed by Jess Varley), which shows that Johnny and four other people have been kidnapped and are being held captive by a crazy scientist named Dr. Wright (played by Ross Partridge), who has made Johnny his most recent victim. Dr. Wright calls this prison Outpost 37, and the five people are in a section called Block 10, which looks like a combination of a dungeon, a psychiatric ward and a scientific lab.

Dr. Wright tells a terrified Johnny why and he the other “patients” have been kidnapped: Dr. Wright wants to target receptors in the brain to create a homemade cocktail that would allow Dr. Wright to extract fear into an easily controlled gas. The doctor wants to sell this gas as a neurological weapon to make him very rich.

Dr. Wright then introduces Johnny to the other four patients in the room, who are all women: defiant Sami, meek Emma, confused Alma and wacky Renee, who each has a different phobia. All of the woman are taken separately into a room where they are strapped to a chair and forced to wear an electrode headset to relive their phobias. And in case anyone has thoughts of escaping, Dr. Wright isn’t afraid to use his cane that can electrocute. The rest of the movie is a story about each of the four women’s phobias and how they got these fears.

“Vehophobia” (directed by Maritte Lee Go and written by Go and Broderick Engelhard) focuses on Sami’s fear of vehicles. Before she was kidnapped by Dr. Wright, Sami (played Hana Mae Lee) was a musician in a rock band, with her boyfriend Harry (played by Ash Stymest) as one of her band mates. A flashback shows that Harry broke up with Sammi over something that happened that was Sammi’s fault. It’s enough to say that someone died as a result of what Sammi did.

Sami didn’t want the breakup to happen. Harry is so angry with her that he yells at her as he walks away, “You fucking used me!” He calls her “twisted” and a “crazy fucking bitch.” The heinous thing that Sammi did is shown in the movie. And she is literally haunted by her decision. It’s not a very imaginative story and the scares are minimal.

“Ephebiphobia” (written and directed by Chris von Hoffmann) shows Emma’s fear of teenagers and other young people. Before she was kidnapped, Emma (played by Lauren Miller Rogen) was a seemingly mild-mannered, married teacher of high school students. But one night, three students from her high school commit a home invasion and torture her, for a reason that’s revealed in the movie.

The home invaders are all siblings: Blaire (played by Mackenzie Brooke Smith) is the ringleader, the eldest and most sadistic of the three; Grady (played by Joey Luthman) is a willing accomplice; and Isaac (played by Benjamin Stockham) is a reluctant accomplice and seems the most horrified by the mayhem that ensues. Unfortunately, “Ephebiphobia” is essentially a short film in serious need of more background information on the characters, in order for viewers to understand these characters more. As it stands, it’s just an empty story that shows a violent home invasion with a fairly implausible conclusion.

“Hopiophobia” (written and directed by Camilla Belle) is about Alma’s fear of guns and other firearms the story. Out of all the stories in the movie, this one is the least terrifying and the most predictable. Alma (played by Martina García) is a cop who accidentally commits an act that would be a cop’s worse nightmare. It’s easy to predict what that act is when it’s revelaed by the story’s title that this cop is now afraid of guns. “Hopiophobia” seems more like it belongs in a crime drama, not a horror movie.

“Atelophobia” (written and directed by Varley) depicts Renee’s fear of imperfection and not being good enough. It’s by far the most off-the-wall (and off-putting) of the movie’s six chapters. Renee (played by Macy Gray) works for her father’s architect firm and interviews a job candidate named Bill McNerney (played by Rushi Kota), who exaggerates his credentials.

Renee is a very strange person who wears black gloves. She also makes off-the-cuff remarks that are supposed to be goofy, but don’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. And she invites Bill and two employees named Lia (played by Alexis Knapp) and Rose (played by Charlotte McKinney) to a dinner party that turns out to be deadly.

Gray, who has an image of being an eccentric artist in real life, is very miscast in the role of Renee, because Gray is not believable as an artichect executive. She’s very awkward in her scenes. In addition to miscasting the role of Renee, the biggest flaw of “Atelophobia” is its muddled message of why Renee now has this fear of imperfection.

“Phobias” makes the same mistake that a lot of other badly made horror movies make: It tries to make viewers think that gory violence is automatically scary. There’s more to terrifying an audience than just showing gruesome deaths. Otherwise, war movies with combat death scenes would be classified as horror movies. A good horror movie gives viewers a chance to get to know the characters and build suspense, rather than showing shallow snippets of the characters’ lives.

None of the acting is outstanding, although Nam and Miller Rogen make attempts to bring realistic depth to their characters. It’s a futile effort because all of the kidnapped characters in this movie have hollow personalities that are overshadowed by the horror that happens to them. Meanwhile, Partridge’s way of depicting Dr. Wright is almost like a parody of a mad scientist.

The concept of “Phobias” was promising, but the execution of that concept was poorly done. The movie somehwat rips off “Saw,” because all of the kidnapped characters were chosen so that they would be punished for the “sins” that they committed, with each punishment related in some way to each sin. The conclusion of “Phobias” is so ho-hum predictable that it makes “Phobias” the type of forgettable horror flick that will leave horror fans underwhelmed.

Vertical Entertainment released “Phobias” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Chasing Wonders,’ starring Antonio De La Torre, Paz Vega, Quim Gutiérrez, Jessica Marias, Michael Crisafulli, Francesc Orella, Carmen Maura and Edward James Olmos

June 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jessica Marias, Quim Gutiérrez, Paz Vega, Antonio De La Torre, Michael Crisafulli, Edward James Olmos and Carmen Maura in “Chasing Wonders” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Chasing Wonders”

Directed by Paul Meins

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place over an eight-year period in Spain and Australia, the dramatic film “Chasing Wonders” features a predominantly Hispanic cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The story’s male protagonist, shown at ages 12 and 20, has a tension-filled relationship with hs father, who is haunted by a tragedy from his past. 

Culture Audience: “Chasing Wonders” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in immigrant stories and stories about people with family secrets.

Antonio De La Torre, Michael Crisafulli, Carmen Maura and Edward James Olmos in “Chasing Wonders” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The dramatic film “Chasing Wonders” blatantly pulls at people’s heartstrings. However, the acting and story are realistic enough that viewers should find something to like about this movie about a Spanish immigrant family trying to overcome emotional dysfunction while living in Australia. Yes, it’s unabashadly sentimental and at times a little melodramatic, but the movie’s overall message is hopeful and uplifting. “Chasing Wonders” can also be relatable to anyone who understands how events from a family’s past can affect the emotional well-being of the family, possible for generations.

Directed by Paul Meins and written by Judy Morris, “Chasing Family” is a movie that flashes back and forth between two time periods for the story’s Spanish Australian protagonist: Savino Farias (played by Michael Crisafulli) at age 12 and at age 20. Although the story is told from Savino’s perspective, the movie’s narrator is Savino’s maternal grandfather Luis (played by Edward James Olmos), who adores Savino and his Savino’s greatest teacher and mentor.

The back-and-forth time shifts and having two different characters as the narrator and protagonist could result in a very messy film. But fortunately, the movie constant jumping over time periods is easy to follow, thanks to the consistently clear screenwriting from Morris, skilled editing from Nicolas Gaster, and solid direction from Meins.

“Chasing Wonders” was also filmed over a five-year period, so the movie did not need two different actors to play Savino as a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old. Keeping the same actor as a child and as an adult just adds to the realistic nature of this dramatic story. It also helps to distinguish between the time periods, because Savino looks his age at these two different periods in his life.

As grandfather Luis explains in voiceover narration in the beginning of the film: “We are all here to dream. It is the very purpose of our mind. And when we are young, our dreams are vivid, crystal-clear. My grandson, he was a dreamer.”

And who is Savino Farias? He is an only child who was born in Spain into a tight-knight but frequently emotionally repressed family. His stern father Felipe (played by Antonio De La Torre) owns a vineyard, while his homemaker mother Adrianna (played by Paz Vega) is the more nurturing parent. Felipe is emotionally troubled: At times he can be cold and distant, while at other times he can fly into a rage over petty things.

Also living in the household are Adrianna’s father Luis and his wife Maribel (played by Carmen Maura), who both adore Savino, who is their only grandchild. Felipe has a handsome and more impulsive younger brother named Goyo (played Quim Gutiérrez), who also lives in the household. Goyo works with Felipe at the vineyard. It’s a family-owned vineyard, but Felipe is in charge, and he never lets people forget it.

Savino spent the first six years of his life living in Spain, until his father decided that the family needed to move to Australia, even though they didn’t know anyone there. Felipe’s parents were deceased by the time the family moved to Australia. Just like in Spain, Felipe owns a vineyard in Australia that is operated with Goyo’s help. The Farias family vineyard and house in Australia are much smaller than the ones that they had in Spain. The vineyard is so small that Felipe and Goyo are the vineyard’s only two employees shown in the movie.

Because Savino’s boyhood scenes show him at 12 years old, it’s during a time when the family has been living in Australia for six years. At some point when they were living in Australia, there was a new addition to the family household: Goyo now has an Australian live-in girlfriend named Janine (played by Jessica Marias), who does some help around the house and the vineyard, but Felipe and Goyo do most of the hard labor outside.

It’s never made clear how long Goyo and Janine have been together by the time that Savino’s childhood is shown when Savino is 12 years old. But based on conversations, it seems like Goyo and Janine have been together for less than two years. There’s a scene of the entire family having dinner together. Savino is asking for family blessings during the dinner prayer, and he doesn’t seem to know how to describe Janine’s relationship to the family in the prayers, since Janine and Goyo are an unmarried couple. Luis tactfully tells Savino that he can describe Janine as “Goyo’s girlfriend.”

Although “Chasing Wonders” might seem to be a family-friendly film that’s appropriate for all ages to watch, it’s not. There’s some cursing (much of it from children) and a graphic scene of Savino killing a hissing snake in self-defense. There’s also a sex scene with Goyo and Janine that briefly shows partial female nudity. Viewers should know this information up front so they can use their own discretion on whether or not to watch “Chasing Wonders,” especially if very young or very easily offended people could be watching.

The scenes with Savino at 20 years old show him going back to visit his original family home in Spain. He is greeted by the property’s live-in caretaker Cosme (played by Francesc Orella), who tells Savino that the family that currently owns the property is from Barcelona, but it’s not the family’s main home. Therefore, the homeowners are not there when Savino comes to visit.

Cosme lives in the property’s guest home. And just like Savino’s beloved grandfather Luis, Cosme lives with several members of his family: Cosme’s wife (played by Imma Vallmitjana); Cosme’s mother-in-law (played by Mariona Perrier); Cosme’s son (played by Marc Guzman); Comse’s daughter-in-law (played by Inés Abad); Cosme’s granddaughter (played by Claudina López); and Cosme’s grandson (played by Eric García).

There’s a brief scene of Savino having dinner with Cosme and his family, and then these family members are not seen again. Cosme is Savino’s main tour guide around the property, so Savino can see how the place might have changed since Savino lived there. Cosme also takes Savino to a few other places that are part of the Farias family’s past.

Most of the story is centered on Savino as a 12-year-old. At school, he’s somewhat of a loner. On the school bus, there are hints that most of his classmates treat Savino as an outsider because he comes from an immigrant family whose first language is Spanish. Savino is fluent in Spanish and English, and he has an Australian accent. He mostly keeps to himself, and there doesn’t seem to be anything outstanding about him at school.

Savino isn’t a complete outcast. His closest and only friend at school is Skeet (played by Jarin Towney), a rebellious kid who comes from a home where his parents have split up and his father rarely keeps in touch with him. When they’re not around adults, Savino and Skeet curse quite a bit. It’s adult language that Savino would never use in the presence of his strict father.

During conversations that Savino and Skeet have, there’s a “grass is always greener” tone to how they view each other’s family situation. Savino seems to think it’s better to have an absentee father than to have a father who is in the household but always seems to be disapproving and ill-tempered. In one scene, Savino says mournfully to Skeet about how Felipe treats him: “I just disappoint him. I don’t know what he wants. I’m not the kid he wants.”

Meanwhile, Skeet (who is emotionally wounded by a father who ignores him) tries to cheer up Savino by saying that having a disapproving father is at least an indication that the father cares. Skeet thinks that’s better than having a father who doesn’t seem to care at all. Savino tries to make Skeet feel better by encouraging Skeet to reach out to Skeet’s father. Although Skeet and Savino have very different views of each other’s family situation, one big thing that they have in common is that they both feel stifled and somewhat unhappy in their families, and the boys like spending time with each other outside of their respective homes.

Savino has a telescope that he got as a gift from his grandfather Luis. Savino loves looking at the stars with the telescope. And he sometimes does some harmless spying on Goyo and Janine, whose bedroom window is directly across from Savino’s. It’s why Savino accidentally sees the couple having sex in their room while their room’s window is exposed. Savino is curious, but he doesn’t fixate too long on watching them have sex. He’s not a perverted Peeping Tom, after all.

One evening while using his telescope, Savino sees a shadow of a big bird and a smaller golden bird that flew over a big rock formation that Savino wants to eventually see up-close in person. Savino excitedly tells his grandparents about what he saw and asks how to get to the rock. Luis mysteriously replies, “You know how. Follow the stars.”

This advice prompts Savino to secretly go exploring at night, knowing that his father Felipe would disapprove and possibly punish him. “Chasing Wonders” has some striking and beautiful cinematography from Denson Baker, especially in the outdoor scenes with wide open spaces. (However, some of the sky backdrops look like visual effects that could have been improved.) The movie was filmed on location in the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Penedés, and in Australia in Barossa Valley, Flinders Ranges and Adelaide Studios.

Savino is fascinated by the Milky Way. And he wants to find the rock formation that he spotted in that telescope sighting. Savino sneaks out of the home to do these walks, but he comes back in time before his parents notice that he ever left. Eventually, Skeet comes along for the journey one night.

There are scenes of Skeet and Savino walking in the outdoors, sometimes on or near a tube-like tunnel, while they talk about their lives. It’s very reminiscent of the 1986 classic film “Stand by Me,” but with two boys instead of four. During their conversations, Savino seems to fear his father but also want his father’s respect and approval.

Felipe is trying to prepare Savino to eventually take over the family vineyard when Savino is old enough to do so. At this point, Savino doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but it seems that his father has already decided for him. What bothers Savino is that he doesn’t know why his father is quick to get angry at him.

Savino knows that something happened to Felipe when Felipe was young, but the family doesn’t want to talk about it. Felipe and Luis sometimes clash because Felipe thinks that Luis gives too much encouragement to Savino to be a dreamer. Observant viewers will also notice that Felipe is probably jealous that Savino is closer to Luis than Savino is to Felipe.

Considering the gruff way that Felipe sometimes treats Savino, it should come as no surprise that Savino has more love for Luis than he does for Felipe. Everyone in the household seems to be a little bit afraid of Felipe because of his unpredictable temper. Felipe also seems to hate the possibility that Savino might not be interested in taking over the family business, because it’s a rejection that Felipe would take very personally.

In one scene, Felipe shows Savino the art of wine tasting and how to be able to tell what year that the wine was made. Felipe gets irritated when Savino starts to giggle during this instructional demonstration. And then, Felipe becomes enraged when he figures out that Savino is tipsy from too much wine that Goyo allowed Savino to drink when Felipe wasn’t there. Goyo is apologetic, but he also thinks Felipe is overreacting.

Felipe verbally rips into Goyo (it won’t be the last time) and yells at him that they’re not in Spain anymore, where letting underage children drink alcohol is more acceptable than it is in many other countries such as Australia. Although it’s highly unlikely that any authorities would find out that Savino had too much wine to drink in this situation, Felipe’s anger has as much to do with wanting to be in control as it has to do with being a protective parent. Felipe thinks Goyo has a tendency to be irresponsible, and Felipe doesn’t want Goyo to be Savino’s role model.

Later in the movie, because of a misadventure that happens while Savino and Skeet snuck out of their homes to explore, Felipe takes away Savino’s telescope and hides it as punishment. It’s not enough to deter Savino from wanting to use the telescope. While Felipe is out in the vineyard, Savino snoops around to try to find the telescope.

Underneath Goyo’s bed, Savino finds a hand-drawn illustration of a family portrait. This illustration is the key to unlocking the mystery of Felipe’s emotional problems. The mystery is eventually revealed in a series of flashbacks.

“Chasing Wonders” is a poignant story about the ripple effects of a family tragedy and the realities of losing loved ones, but the movie also has several moments of inspiration in showing how family members can help each other in depressing times. Savino has a troubled relationship with his father. However, Savino gets a lot of love and respect from his mother and her parents, who all accept Savino for the way he is. It’s why Savino doesn’t feel completely unwanted in life.

Felipe could easily be the movie’s villain, but there are no real villains in this story—just a father who is emotionally damaged. Felipe loves his family, but he has personal demons that affect the way he expresses (or represses) his emotions. All of the cast members give admirable performances, but Crisafulli is particularly noteworthy as Savino, the anchor of this story. There’s a maturity of adulthood in someone’s eyes that can’t be faked or replicated when two different actors portray the same character as a child and as an adult.

De La Torre as Felipe and Olmos as Luis are also very effective as two very different father figures. Savino learns life lessons from both of them. Savino might not have realized it when he was a child, but his emotionally painful experiences with his father probably prepared him to deal with difficult people in the real world, compared to someone who grows up in a very sheltered environment. The takeaway from the movie is that although people can’t control the families they were born into and other things that happen in life, one of the greatest gifts that someone can give besides love is honest and open communication.

Gravitas Ventures released “Chasing Wonders” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 4, 2021.

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist and arrogant Interpol agent named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an affect on how people peceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.